Archive for survival

Lines and Boundaries

Posted in howto, pets, Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2011 by demigorge

More lessons for the handler than the dog.

Assuming you’re not going to dump me in the middle of the desert with nothing but dunes and mirages for as far as the eye can see, I’m pretty comfortable getting around with a topo map and a compass. Even more so if it’s a recent topo map and a compass bigger than a button.  So when someone sets up a griding  sector we’ve never been to before I think literally nothing of it. It’s just another day at training where we wander through the woods trying not to fall all over ourselves and put Grom in the best possible place to make his little discovery.

Because he and I are in the middle of our testing process we use every opportunity to practice the skills we’re going to need, not only on a test, but in a real search. So the problem was set up like a light brush test, and everything about it was a dress rehearsal for the actual test we’d be running soon. Most importantly was getting an area topo map, defining our sector, and developing our strategy.  Rarely do we get to respond to a search in an area we know well, so making sense of our surroundings quickly becomes a real asset. This is the map of the area, with the redzone being the new sector. The blue line indicating my plan, and incidentally what I thought I did at the time.

So we set out along the road on the south side of the sector, which I have determined in 200 meters to the west end where my unmarked boundary should run along a drainage. This is the boundary I have chosen to work first since it’s an easy shot almost due north to the stream, which is my north most boundary. It should be a simple task of counting 120 steps and then turning north.

Looking for a drainage

When I get to 119 steps I look around and realize I don’t see a drainage to my right. In fact what I see to my right is flat, wide, and open. But if I walk another 30 paces, there’s a nice drainage right beside it. Simply put, I think it’s a good thing my counting ability is not being tested because I would have failed that part.

But if you look at the GPS track that recorded my path, as well as the path of two other people who worked the same sector, you’ll notice we all overshot the boundary. One of those tracks was actually recorded by the person who was looking at the GPS as he was walking the line, and even he missed the boundary.

what actually happened.

It did not turn out to be a huge issue in this case. Even though we were out of our sector, and technically didn’t know where we were at the time, all the dogs were able to put their noses on the subject. So it didn’t affect the outcome of the problem, but it did point out a couple of things for me.  Not least of which is that this is how you get holes in your grid pattern.

More importantly though,  I need to put a little more trust in my pace count. Even having a GPS will not always put you exactly where you want to be.  Also, If you go looking for a terrain feature, you will find it. But it, and consequently you, may not be where you think you need to be.

Sit! Staaaaaaaaayyyy.  Wait for it.  Good Boy!

(The second half of this post will be posted later)

FTL Weekend Part Three: The Search

Posted in Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , on February 16, 2011 by rattlerjen

our coordinates

our coordinates - Team Golf

We practiced all day.

We gathered in groups, folded our maps, checked our boots, and tightened our packs.

We oriented our maps, set a bearing, followed it, and counted our paces.

We slipped in snow, fought with brambles, spread out to search, and doubled back.

We found our markers.

We were practicing land navigation with our map and compass as a team.

It was all just practice for what was to come.

The Mock Search

It was time for all of us to put what we learned to the test.  The students and instructors gathered together to learn what we could about the search to come at the briefing.  Three people were lost in the woods behind the community center and we had to find them.  There was already snow on the ground and the temperature was to drop into the teens at night.  None of them were prepared to be out in the weather.

ftl mock search weather

During the briefing several people asked some very good questions.  It was very important to find out everything we could about the people missing, the situation, and the search area.

After briefing everyone went to gather their equipment and sign in.  I on the other hand really had to use the ladies room.  Cold weather and drinking water all day, you do the math.

As I was making my way back to the classroom, several people in the hallway told me my name was being called.  I was wanted in the last room, the incident command center.  A team had already been picked for me and I was needed to begin briefing for my task.

Turns out I was placed with a signcutter team, cool!  The only thing I really knew is that they would be very detail oriented.  These guys see things the rest of us walk right by.  I imagined them crawling along the ground inspecting leaves with magnifying glasses, sniffing pine needles, and tasting rocks.  This was going to much different than keeping up with a search dog.

Our task was to walk to the stream and cut for sign along it.  Two other signcutter teams had been sent out to look for other clues.  The rest of the teams were ground searchers, scouring the woods for the lost ones with flashlights.  My job was to lead the team of signcutters, which really meant, follow behind and let them do their job.  That left me with the radio, navigation, notes, keeping track of everyone, and searching for more obvious clues with my flashlight.  I was excited.

We did not even get to the start of our task area before the trackers found several sets of prints.  Popsicle sticks, tape measurers, and note pads emerged from pockets while I watched.  I began to realize there were a dozen questions I could have asked at the briefing that may have been of use for the sign cutters.  Several of which would have involved shoes.  We followed the tracks to the stream, I radioed base indicating we started our task.

I followed along counting my paces, inspecting the map, learning a bit about sign cutting, and trying to listen to the radio. I found it was not easy to keep track of all of the traffic coming over the radio and paying attention to my other responsibilities.  One being not falling face first into the  icy stream.  Calls coming in were constant.  Teams starting task and giving progress reports were intermixed with clues being called in and questions asked.  Was that one of the teams indicating they had found one of the missing persons?  I continued to listen and jot down information as we crawled forward.

I was learning much about how to work with a specialized team.  I was also learning that the extra layer of clothing I intended to take off once we were moving would stay put.  Following sign cutters does not involve much of a physical workout.  Just have to remember to wiggle my toes every once and a while.

We may have been going slower than many of the other teams, but these guys were hot on a trail in the snow, picking it out among a mess of other prints.  I was beginning to wonder how far I was from sniffing a few leaves myself.

This stuff is interesting.

A call came over the radio.  Misty’s, the lost woman’s, shirt was found.  Later, someone called about hearing a whistle coming from the woods.  Could it be who we were looking for?

Tune in later to find out…

FTL: First Weekend

Posted in Rescue Training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2011 by rattlerjen

Field Team Leader Training.

Class Description

Intermediate-level training in search team management, implementation of search tactics, supervision of team performance, proper use of semi-technical rescue equipment, and evacuation management. The FTL course consists of approx. 60% classroom and 40% field instruction. Field work is held regardless of current weather conditions unless extreme conditions present personal safety concerns. Successful completion prepares the student to adequately function as a Field Team Leader under the indirect supervision of the Operations Section Chief.

Physical Ability and Conditioning: Search and Rescue is hard, physically demanding work. Prospective students to the field classes must be capable of ascending steep slopes (up to 60 degrees) over rough terrain, in the dark, while carrying a backpack that may weigh up to 40lbs. After several hours in the field under the previously described conditions, the student will then enter the rescue portion of the course. During the rescue SAR personnel will assist in the carry-out of a patient as part of a rotating 6-person team. The litter with patient package may weigh up to 300lbs. Read my post on patient packaging and litter carrying.

I learned so many things from this class.

The first thing explained to us was we needed to know everything from FTM (Field Team Member) class well enough that we could teach it.

That includes many rescue knots, carrying a litter, land navigation using a map and compass, helicopter proticol, radio communications, and boring government terms, organization, and paperwork.  (Sorry folks, but if I were to tell you that the National Incident Management stuff was riveting you wouldn’t believe me if I told you water was wet.)

The instructors found a way to make all subjects covered pretty fun. The Power Point presentations are often sprinkled with jokes, quotes, and funny pictures and the personal stories from the instructors really juice things up.  Often the stories from the instructors are more instructive than anything included in the prepared lessons.  I saw not one nodding head nor glazed eye the entire weekend!

We learned a few new knots.

Double Figure Eight Loop – Click to see an animated video

butterfly knot

This knot can be used for a harness or as an anchor for rappelling.

Emergency Harness – click to see animated video

This is a simple harness that anyone can do.  It is very useful for those steep drainages we sometimes have to search.  Simply strap one of these on yourself and anchor a rope to a nice tree to prevent a head over heals tumble down a rocky slope.

Butterfly – click to see animated video

Use this pretty knot on either side of a damaged rope.  A useful thing to know when you discover the rope you are hanging from got chewed on by a nasty rock.

Munter Mule – click to see animated video

or click here for Appalachian Rescue’s easier-to-tie version

This knot gives a controlled slide through a carabiner.  It is used when rappelling.  We will learn more about how this nifty knot works next weekend.

Triple Redundant Harness – click to see how this one is tied

A more secure harness than the emergency harness.  This version uses a bowline hitch, but it can also be made with water knots.

We learned that we carry more stuff

Here is an old posting about what I carry in my SAR pack

First, we have to carry all the things an FTM carries:
  • Waterproof (windproof) jacket
  • Waterproof (windproof) pants (these don’t have to be expensive, just functional)
  • Wool or synthetic shirts or sweaters.
  • Wool or synthetic pants, or BDU’s with appropriate thermal underwear. NO JEANS!
  • Long underwear made of wool, silk, or other synthetic material – Cotton thermal underwear is not acceptable.
  • Gloves for cold weather with either leather palms, or a leather outer glove layer.
  • Stocking Cap or Balaclava
  • Boots with a good lug sole recommended.
  • Wool or synthetic socks with a good nylon liner.
  • Waterproof (windproof) jacket and pants.
  • Long pants – preferably rip stop material. NO SHORTS
  • Lightweight shirt – preferably of breathable material.
  • Hat
  • Gloves with minimum of a leather palm.
  • Boots with a good lug sole recommended.
  • Socks with a good nylon liner.
  • Backpack large enough for daypack use
  • One quart minimum canteen or water bottle
  • One day supply of quick energy food
  • Whistle
  • Compass (Silva or Brunton preferred)
  • Headlamp with a set of spare batteries and bulb.
  • One other alternate source of light with spare batteries & bulb
  • Personal First Aid Kit
  • At least one 30-gallon leaf bag
  • Waterproof matches or disposable lighter
  • Storm Shelter (can be items already in pack such as garbage bag)
  • Handheld radio
  • Toilet paper
  • Zip-lock bags
  • Moleskin
  • Gaitors
  • Sunscreen
  • Signal mirror
  • Parachute cord
  • Small notebook & pen
  • Insect repellant
  • Water purification tablets or filter system
  • GPS Unit – Know how to use this and have it set up properly before putting it in your pack!

Field Team Leader Equipment List

All required equipment from the Field Team Member Equipment List (see above), PLUS:

  • 25 feet of one-inch nylon tubular webbing
  • Two (2) Locking-D aluminum alloy carabiners
  • UIAA approved climbing helmet (or hardhat with chin strap)
  • Electric Headlamp w/ extra batteries and bulb

We learned about ourselves.

Most of what makes up an FTL’s job is management of people.  It is the most important and most difficult skill to learn.  Within five minutes of walking into the classroom I was given a personality test.  Shockingly, I tested quite high as a “Showman.”  No surprise there.  Eleven years ago I took the Myers-Briggs personality test and came out with INTP.  I took it today scoring INTJ (although the J score was quite low.)

How useful it can be to understand how you think and react to events! Take the Myers-Briggs Jung Personality test free online here.

In order to successfully lead a team, one must understand different personalities and how to work with them.  Every personality type has jobs that best suit them.  Note: I have a big mouth, never give me the radio.

What it boils down to:gumby

It’s all about practice and experience in the field.

You are not physically fit at the moment to carry all this stuff.

Teaching and doing shows for four to eight year olds may help or hinder your ability to be a leader for adults.

Your mouth is gonna get you into trouble one day.

Limit the amount of Pizza and Mexican Food you eat at training weekend.  Rescue pants need to fit tomorrow!

Semper Gumby!

My First Search!

Posted in Search and Rescue with tags , , , , on November 15, 2010 by rattlerjen

It started with a marathon day at work.  I was out of the house early in the morning and had four shows ahead of me, all in different locations.  This was no desk job, I had heavy animals to load and unload 10 times that day, nearly 100 miles to drive in some of the worst traffic in the country, and four energy filled performances in front of potentially rowdy adults and children.  My job is awesome, I get home happy and tired.


I wasn’t going home.  After work, I headed off to a party .  When I got home, Grom must have thought I had been eaten by a giant purple people eater.  He nearly flattened me in his exuberant greeting!  As I was attempting to ward off slobber, paws, and a giant dog tongue when my phone rang.

It was the dispatcher for the SAR group.  I attempted to answer through paws-in-the face and doggie head-butts.  I hit the answer button several times and the darned phone would not respond.

“Come on, stupid phone this could be important!”  I grumbled.

Finally the phone connected, but the dispatcher had already hung up.  ARRRGH!  (Of course Grom was sitting pretty like he hadn’t tried to maul me 10 seconds ago.)

I redialed and connected…. with voice mail.  DOH!

Redialed again and left a message with left voice mail.  Then waited.  I missed the first two searches I was called for, I am not going to miss this call.

She called me back,  there was a search and I would be going in the morning.

I was finally called out on my very first official search!  Someone was lost for true and needed real help.

I quickly had everything packed and ready to go in my car with the help of my awesome husband.  I hit the sack for four hours of sleep and rose before dawn.  While I was pulling my warm under-shirt on over my head, I realized I was not overly excited or nervous.  Although, I did get a bit cranky when I misplaced my freshly filled coffee cup, twice.  Maybe I was a bit nervous.

With a gorgeous pink sunrise at our backs, I rode in the passenger seat of my teammate’s truck on the way to the mountain.  It was a beautiful ride with all of the leaves shimmering red, gold, and orange in the breeze along each side of the road.  The bright sun and clear sky promised a nice day to be walking in the mountains.

We arrived at a very busy Search Base a short hour later.  The area was filled with law enforcement, fire fighters, ground search teams, horse mounted teams, and dog teams all returning from their first task and waiting for their next.  Huge antennas bristled up out of the communications trailer where radios are handed out and the airwaves, the arteries for a search, are maintained.  Lines of people flowed in and out of the Command Center, the brains and backbone of the whole operation.  My empty stomach was attempting to grab my attention with several groans and gurgles when I noticed several police officers with hot food in their hands.

My thoughts were interrupted when a tall man walked out of the trailer and greeted us with a question of who was the most experienced dog person.  I pointed to my team mate and watched as she was whisked away into the Command Trailer.

My stomach talked to my brain which got my hand moving towards two large fabric coolers filled with hot biscuits and sausage sandwiches.  Familiar faces from SAREX and SAR training school began appearing in the crowd.  Then, some members of my very own SAR group arrived.  We grouped together when my team-mate emerged from the trailer with our task in hand.  We were each handed a picture of the lost person with the details of his situation, instructions, and maps.  Using a police ATV as a table, we poured over the information and laid out a plan of attack.  Then, piled into our truck and drove down the road to a point closer to our task area.

We found the perfect place to park the truck no more than 200 meters from our task start point.  Wait, this doesn’t exactly look right.  One of our more experienced team members noticed we could not be where we thought we were.  The GPS indicated we were not where we thought we should be either. Perhaps the road is a big loop and it meets up with the main road further south.  So, we all piled back into the car and drove down the road, way down the road.  That was the only road it could have been.  What is the deal here?

I came to find out that the maps I printed from home were not as accurate as I had hoped.  Sure, the contour lines and other features were spot on, but the overlay of the newer roads and trails were off, way off.  Good to know!  Boy, did I feel like a dummy.

We found a perfect place to park on an adjacent road and started out.  A car drove in behind us and expelled a lady and two charging dogs.  One dog pit bull mix started straight for our search dog!  Our dog handler quickly took her dog around to the other side of the truck and had her lay down out of sight.  What a good dog!  We were able to intercept the two charging pooches so the woman could get them back in her car.  That got my heart started!  All was fine; time to start searching.

All five of us navigated in a line like a ground search team with a young german shepherd bounding and zooming around in front of us with her nose in the air.  Some one out there had her toys, and she was going to go find them!  We made our way up through the woods bordered by two drainages back to the truck.  Visibility was fairly good, and the area was narrow enough for us to be spaced a nice distance apart for visual coverage in case we found any clues.  We found nothing.

So, we went back to the truck for the start of our second portion of the task. Our leader decided to walk up the road bordering our area and work down hill from there.  The sun was heating the ground and causing scent and airflow to move uphill.  If there was a person down hill from us, the dog would have a better chance of catching his scent.

It sounded a great plan.  Walking uphill in the beginning is much better than at the end.  Boy, was it a steep climb!  After resting a few times, someone mentioned how it would have been a good idea to take two cars so we could have driven to the top.  Good idea; too bad we were more than half way there.  Good thing I would very much like the size of my heiney to reduce in size, exercise was very much welcome.

Then, a large black labrador came trotting down the road towards us from behind a large truck parked on the side of the road.  I was beginning to wonder if there were loose dogs everywhere on this mountain.  The owner was talking to a search volunteer and quickly asked his dog to get back in his yard when he found out we had a dog too.  We safely passed by, eyeing the very interested big dog as we did.  The big retriever decided to trot on after us until one of us waved him back.  I turned around and noticed he began following us again!  Where was that nice owner of his?  I stopped, put my hands on my hips and leaned in towards the big dog. I stayed in that position until he slowly turned around and walked back to his own driveway.  There would be no rumble in the jungle today.

At the top of the hill,  our group turned 90 degrees and began walking in between our sector boundaries.  Half way across, another big dog comes bouncing towards us from the opposite direction.  Dogs!  There are dogs everywhere!  This one had a nice orange vest on.  It was another search dog!  Both dogs were called back to their handlers and leashed up while the teams met.  I took the minutes to pinpoint exactly where I was on the map.  I do not have the knack of instantly knowing my exact location at all times, it still takes me a bit of looking around and figuring from my pace count to be sure.  “Practice,” I remind myself.


I cant draw straight on a laptop

The other K9 search team moves along towards their search area, and we continue on.  We stumble, slide, hop, trudge, and trip across leaf covered rocks and boulders.  Back and forth, back and forth.  The search dog moves into four-paw-drive and blazes past us without concern.  The horrible terrain does not phase this pup!  While the dog is working hard, we surprise a man in his own backyard.  He must have been confused why two backpack toting women in official looking jackets were doing stumbling around the boulders behind his house.  He was quickly interviewed and we continued on.

Near the end of our task, we encountered a house with very large barbed wire topped fenced off yard.  The search dog showed no interest, so we made our way around it.  I picked my way into denser vegetation.  Much of it was very prickly.  One thorn covered vine caught in my pony tail.  I lowered myself to dislodge it when another entangles around the top of my pack.  While I slowly move to pull the pesky plants off, several more thorns began biting into my arms and legs from three directions.  It must have taken me a full two minutes to free myself from the mess.   “Stupid invasive roses,” I muttered  I like roses as much as the next gal, but these stupid plants bear no flowers, only horrible green masses of entangled vines bristling with sharp hooked thorns.

Once freed, I found a wooden camo deer hunting shed up against the fence.  I knocked on the door and pushed inside.  It would be a good place to hide for the night if it were cold and you were lost.  It was only filled with bags of concrete and building materials, no lost person here.

Thirty-seconds later I was back on the road and near our truck.  My first search was over.

Back at base I found some hot chicken nuggets and an apple to munch on.  This search was well-organized!  Our leader debriefed inside the trailer and our team split up talking to other search teams waiting for their next search task.  We covered a lot of area in six hours, but the missing person was still missing.

Fresh teams were still arriving as we left that afternoon, base was still swarming with people, and the mountain was being searched.

I wondered where the man was as I made my way home.  I hoped he was ok.  I dreaded he was in our search area and we somehow missed him.  I would go back out in the middle of the night with another team if asked.  I left my gear in the car, ate a snack, and took a bath.

Just before dinner I was notified they found the man that evening three miles from our search area.  He was ok.

That’s all that matters.

How to make a One Match Fire

Posted in how to, howto, Search and Rescue, Survival Gear with tags , , , , , , on June 22, 2010 by rattlerjen

Fire is an important thing to have in a survival situation.  It allows you to stay warm, boosts morale, cook food, and purify water.  It is not as easy to make as you might think.  In a survival situation, or even when backpacking in the woods, one match is all it should take.

Here, we learn how to make a one match fire from our favorite outdoor guru, Rob Speiden.

First, you must gather kindling and tinder.  tinder and kindling

Tinder should be light and fluffy.  This is what the match will light on fire.  People who get good at making fire are able to get tinder to alight in flame with a single spark.  This takes lots of practice, but can be done.  We shall be prepared, so no firebowes mate.

Bark that peels like paper from a tree such as cedar or birch, cotton dipped in Vasoline, char cloth, and lint from the dryer work well.  Unfortunately,  leaves do not work very well because they burn at such a low temperature it takes an enormous amount to light the kindling.  Gather far more tinder than you think you need.

Kindling are dry branches and twigs as big around as your thumb or smaller.  Only gather these from the dead lower branches of trees, not from the ground or they are likely to be wet.

If it snaps it is dry if it is green or wet it will bend.

Gather several armloads.  Then go back and gather more.  No one ever gets enough of this stuff.  Break the kindling into 6 inch lengths.

Find two forked sticks and break them off about 6 inches from the fork.  Shove these guys in the ground about a foot away from one another.  Now, break a twig off of a green branch and lay it across the two forks.  You want the branch to be green as you want it to resist burning for a long time. It will look like you are about to rotisserie a chipmunk.  (I heard they are quite tasty.)  Don’t jump the gun folks!  You are going to need this little frame to build your fire on, so put that rodent away.

Start building a little a frame house with the six inch lengths of kindling.  Make sure you have provided for airflow and enough room in the structure for your hand.  Pile it on. Remember, there’s not really any such thing as too much kindling.

The most important part of fire making:  Sit back and watch all of your hard work BURN!

Survival Weekend: After Lunch

Posted in Search and Rescue, Survival Gear with tags , , , , , , , on June 21, 2010 by rattlerjen

The buffet, it was massive!  Really folks, you probably could have ordered a few pizzas and been done with it. There were three kinds of sandwich meats, four cheeses, deli mustard, onion rolls, creamy potato salad, bagels, donuts, gatorade, soft drinks, chips, cookies, and food galore.

On our packs went and waddle waddle waddle our feet shuffled.  To the other side of base camp our destination was.  To a graveyard in the middle of a forest, creeeeeeepy!  Down a trail and up a creek was the path to take.

I don’t think this trail is on the map.  Bullocks!

No problem, just look at the nice beetle that clicks and pops like popcorn. DISTRACTION!  How is that for self defense!  BOING!

We split off into multiple groups to try different routes.  I decided to tag along with a newer volunteer in our organization.  This was the very first time she had done orienteering.  It was a perfect opportunity for me to learn more.  Rob must have sensed trouble and decided to tag along with us.  (I could get lost in my own sock drawer.)  We let the new woman do all of the navigating.  I succeeded in clearing up a bit of navigation confusion, Yay me!  Then proceeded in confusing us both a minute later.

We stood at a joining of two drainages, which is the correct one?

Rob is the Awesome.  He taught us a few new skills so that we were able to figure it out ourselves.  All you have to do is point your compass up each drainage and determine the bearing it follows and match that to the map.  Spiffy!

I learned that most trail maps are out of date and possibly useless; topo maps are the bomb.

The cemetery turned out to be a charming little plot of a half a dozen old stone markings surrounded by a little metal fence like what you would see around a really nice garden.  The area past the graveyard opened up into a gorgeous bright green meadow.

Rob started pulling bark off of a dead cedar tree.  GOLD!  I stuffed a ziplock bag full of the magical paper thin strips.  We gathered together with the others under a tiny canopy of trees.

That is when we found out what the heck was in Chris’s bag.

Are you sure this is big enough?

She came prepared man!  The whole team could probably use that thing as a shelter.  After teasing our poor team member, we decided to have a bit of fun.    At her expense of course.

We learned three valuable ways to make a shelter:

Shelter burrito,


and Lean-to.

When constructing your shelter of choice don’t forget your pink string.

This of course matches your pink knife, pink water bottle, pink clothing, pink….

*Cough* umm yeah.  What were we talking about?

Up Next, How to Make a Fire or How not to burn yourself.

Survival weekend training fun

Posted in life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue, Survival Gear with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2010 by rattlerjen

Every year our team has a survival training weekend. This was my first time participating.
We had the great pleasure of Rob Spieden to teach the class for the entire day.

A flurry of emails before the weekend quickly spoiled any hope of me losing any weight during the weekend and dashed my hopes of eating beetle stew.  A great pot luck feast was brewing amongst the team.  My husband and I brought two dozen donuts.  I sat them on the classroom table near enough food to feed three times the class’s partipating number.

We had just enough time to finish our coffee and donuts before Rob decided classrooms are boring.  After a wonderful introduction to the use of maps and compass, most of us already had one or two classes under our belts on the subject, we staggered outside.  Under the weight of our packs and maps in hand, we staggered into the woods to find our first orienteering marker.learning to navigate

This marker is a four foot tall wooden post with the top painted orange and a white number carved into the side.  We had to bushwack by a route through the woods to find it.  Our small group of troublemakers walked straight down the road where it comes to a stop at another road crossing it.  We then cut into the woods and down a drainage nearly straight to the marker.  It was the easy route.

With a simple walk upstream we walked nearly right into the marker.

On a lovely carpet of bright green moss we sat and waited for the other groups to catch up. They had taken more challenging routes and found the marker soon after we did.  On the perfect area for maximum relaxation, we learned about the Rule of Threes.  A simple list of things to remember in order for a human to survive.

Then, we whipped out the knives.  Big ones, little ones, pink ones, serrated ones, ones with scissors, ones with saws.  Some people had multiple knives. Some had enough knives to belong to the circus.  A few had knives that belonged on the set of Crocodile Dundee.  We like the knives.  A good thing too.  A decent knife is an important item on the list of 10 Essential Survival Items.

box turtleEveryone was instructed to find the next marker on the side of a steep hill.  I joined a group that decided to walk upstream counting drainages in order to find our marker.  A slow turtle and gorgeous warty little red toad later, we aimed ourselves up a steep drainage.  red toad

God, I am out of shape.orienting the map with no compass

At that marker we learned how to relate what can be seen on a topo map to true life.  Some people can do this crazy runnin around in the woods without a compass.  Now, that is quite cool!

It was then decided by unanimous vote that it was time for LUNCH!

The Rule of Threes

Posted in pets, Search and Rescue, Survival Gear with tags , , , , , , , on June 9, 2010 by rattlerjen


3 SECONDS – (MIND) the time you have to decide to escape or take action on an immediate danger.

3 MINUTES – (AIR) the average time you can survive without breathable air.

3 HOURS – (SHELTER) without it, time before you start dying from hypothermia (cold) or hyperthermia (heat).

3 DAYS – (WATER) the time before dehydration can claim your life because lack of water.

3 WEEKS – (FOOD) the time before you cannot do any daily necessary task because of lack of food.

3 MONTHS – (HOPE) the time without meeting anybody else before a solid depression catches you.

Our instructor suggested that we add something to 3 Seconds.lauren sleeping


Less than 3 seconds of shut-eye behind the wheel could kill.   Don’t believe me?  Close your eyes for 3 seconds and imagine you are driving at 55mph.  It’s a long time!

This is especially important for Search and Rescue Teams.  Typically a call comes for teams in the middle of the night after a full day of 9 to 5 work.  That call in the middle of the night might mean that the volunteers will be awake all through the night and possibly the next day tromping through the woods with full packs on.

If you are tired, it is better to get back in the car for a nap rather than a drive home.


If you keep in mind the Rule of 3’s before leaving for an outing, you will always be prepared.

How to Learn from your First Orienteering Outing

Posted in Dog diary, life with a working dog, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on June 8, 2010 by rattlerjen

Go back and do it again!

I had so much fun getting lost yesterday (yesterdays post here) I decided that I was going to try the course again.  Remember how I missed my intended route to the orienteering marker by overshooting the first ridge?  This time I went back with my dog and tried to navigate the course in a different way.

I turned my gps tracking on and stuck it in my backpack to record my steps.  Out came the map and compass to have one more go at it.

navigation plan My plan was to walk down the trail to the creek and go over the first saddle in the ridge.  (like I was supposed to do yesterday.)

Then down the drainage on the other side to the road.

Up the road then West to the large drainage that runs south to the second stream.

Up the stream to the marker.  Take picture of dog at the marker.

Stay dry.

Then up the stream to the first drainage.

Follow the drainage up to the clearing at the top of the hill and head Northeast.

Eventually I would run into the trail crossing my path, a catching feature, or I would run into the road, a collecting feature, and follow that to the trail.

Simply take the trail back to the parking lot.

I also planned to get the dog quite muddy, wet, and muddy again.

This time, I think I did a pretty darn good job.  Here is my gps track.

It was very useful to take a slightly different route to the marker than the day before.  I was able to properly recognize features found on the map.  I also now can really see the saddle that I missed yesterday.  The middle of the saddle is so long and flat that it does not look like a saddle at all.  If I had not payed attention to my pace count closely, I would have missed it again.

I would highly recommend trying this as practice for map and compass navigation.  Much was learned the second time around.

Oh, and the muddy dog:

How to Get Wet and Lost

Posted in Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on June 7, 2010 by rattlerjen

So, this is how you practice using your map and compass.

german shepherd search dog

First, have someone with you who has told you knows how to use a map and compass really well.

Give them a map, compass, and GPS filled with waypoints for an orienteering course.  Then, in the parking lot, find someone who is not going with you to chose a waypoint for you to hike to.  Find out later the friendly guy in the parking lot is in the military and runs marathons for fun.

Also, make sure you have an absolutely adorable german shepherd puppy along to bound through the brush and laugh at your clumsy two-legs.

Copy your coordinates down and plot them little suckers on the map.

Make sure to use a nice big purple marker so as to obscure all land features around plotted point.  Now, plan you route noting all topographical features you will pass.topo map

Then, notice none of the topographical features as you mindlessly wander passed them.  Be sure to concentrate on counting your steps so as to estimate exactly how far it is to that ridge you were aiming for.  Get distracted by a couple of funny smelling plants and a particularly attractive mushroom and forget what number you were on.

Completely forget why you were counting in the first place and start wandering a bit further downstream.

Remember all of a sudden you were looking for a place to cross the ridge on your right at some point around here and start looking.  Walk a bit further south until you find a lower point on the ridge. Just, assume this is what you were looking for and climb up the hill.
map trailFigure out that you completely blew past the first saddle and walked down to the second saddle twice as far south.  Be elated when you find the road crossing your line of travel and immediately forget why this was important.  Make sure at this point to try a different navigation tactic known as following a bearing.

Only do this across the largest and steepest number of hills possible along your route believing that doing so will magically take off all the pounds you have been trying to lose for the past 5 years.  After fully committed to plan, realize that climbing hills is exhausting with a 30 pound pack.  Also recall that your favorite fast food restaurant is on the way home and you are likely to eat enough food to gain an extra 10 pounds.

Next, encounter a massive thunderstorm!


Drenched, you start muttering to yourself.

“The marker should be here.  Maybe we are still south of it.  Perhaps we should walk upstream for a bit?  The marker is supposed to be at the narrowing of the canyon.” Trudge, squish, trudge, trudge, squish.  This explains the drunken squiggles on the left side of the map.

Notice your “teacher” is  clearing his throat with a smirk and setting the bezel on his shiny new watch to time something.    Suspect he is up to something.  Find out later that you passed the marker and he is timing how long it takes you to figure it out.

While walking back, notice how one hill is curved and the other has a steep side jutting straight out towards the stream.  If  you had only looked at that before you would have walked right back to the marker.  Now, don’t be too hard on yourself, you are learning here.

Take obligatory pictures with wet dog next to the marker.

Now, get lost trying to find your way back to the car.

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